The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Best moment to harvest from established sourdough starter?

beakernz's picture

Best moment to harvest from established sourdough starter?

A bit of a noobie question but I am wondering what the optimal time is to take material from an established starter.  If I feed my starter in the morning, by noon it has doubled and sometimes continues increasing for another hour or two.  Then it will begin to slowly reduce in volume.  Is it optimal to collect material when it hits the absolute peak or wait until it settles down again?  Any thoughts?  Thanks!

Craig_the baker's picture
Craig_the baker

I would take it at peak or when it has just started to reduce in volume. Point is, you want to use it when its most vigorous for best and most reliable results.

Yerffej's picture

When using a sourdough starter the primary concern is usually regarding the rising power of the starter.  If you are unsure of the power of your starter I would follow the advice already given and take it at or near its peak rise.  Once you have become acquainted with the starter and understand its leavening power you can then alter the point at which you use it and begin to control the sourness of the starter.   This is a matter of preference and not one of the right or wrong way to use starter.  Generally speaking the more mature the starter, the more acetic acid it will have and this is the souring agent.  Keeping and using starter has a lot more variables then what I mention but this is a good beginning point.


adri's picture

I personally have a method where I do not harvest anything. I have a seperate batch of mother starter (maybe 100g) in the fridge from which I take just the bit I need to make my sourdough for baking.

But when I have to refresh my mother starter, (1:2:2) I will put it back into the fridge after about 4 hours, just before or at the time it peaks (this you can see as harvesting the whole starter). In the fridge it still needs some "food" to survive, so don't put it back too late.

Whith what formula do you produce your starter? Do you take more than 10% of mother starter? Doubeling after 5 hours (7am 'til noon) is very quick. Too quick for my taste; it cannot develop much flavour in that time. I would just would use this for my motherstarter (that will still have a lot of time in the fridge) or maybe for very quick wheat beads with rye less than 40%.

beakernz's picture

Well currently I have my main rye starter and twice a day morning and 3pm (if not refridgerated) I remove all but 50gms, add 100gms water and 70gms rye flour.  It does seem to grow very fast.  What am I making with the surplus:

basic sour dough loaf.  For this I take 13 gms of the surplus starter and do a pre-ferment overnight.  By morning the preferment has doubled in size and I use that in the bread recipe.  The flavour of the bread seems quite good and it makes a nice loaf. 

And lately I am making long ferment sourdough biscuits using 100% surplus starter.  I take 1/2 cup surplus starter, add some butter, buttermilk and 1 1/4 cup flour.  I mix the dough and let sit for 12hrs, by this time it's doubled in size.  I then knead in a little salt, roll out and cut biscuits and bake.  Right after baking I found them bland, but the following day -wow- some very intense sourdough flavor developed, so delicious everyone in the house can't stop eating them.


I do find the management of the mother starter and application of it to recipes to be very confusing.  It seems there is no one right way to do it.  There also seems to be cultural variances in terminology.  I've also been wrestling with the differences between mother starter and "pre-ferment", some recipes saying "add 1/2 cup starter" when they seem to be meaning 1/2cup pre-ferment.  I'm sure i'll figure all this out eventually.

adri's picture

I get you with the difficulty with terminology. As my native language is German, I use "Sauerteig" (=Sourdough) as what you call "pre-ferment" and "Anstellgut" as, well, maybe "storage leaven".

As to, a sourdough starter is just one kind of "pre-ferment".

Just to be sure: By "harvesting" you didn't mean the "storage leaven" then, as I supposed before, but the one you use for making the "pre-ferment".

As it lacks of gluten, a rye starter does not rise as much as a wheat starter would. Furthermore you use a hydration of 143%. That's quite wet. It amazes me, that you see your starter doubling under this conditions!
It must be very active. In my opinion, you don't have to refresh such an active starter every day by refeeding it.

I have good results with keeping it in the fridge almost all the time and just refeeding it about once a week. When I travel it also happens that I skip two weeks.

The amount I use for the pre-ferment I take directly from the fridge. By generating pre-ferment the microorganisms get activated automatically. But also breads without pre-ferment work fine (eg. "400g wheat, 300g water, 20g starter, 8g salt - mix all together without kneeding, wait for 10 hours, fold, fold, fold to chiabatta, bake").

I basically just refeed my starter when I see it gets too little. (starter:water:flour: 1:2:2) (Adjusting the amount in the jar to what I need within the next 7 days)
Sometimes (every view months), when it seems to weaken a bit, I use your method of consecutive refreshments.

¿The biscuits are without sugar?

RobynNZ's picture

So in making biscuits are you making scones or cookies?  (Sorry, couldn't resist). Great to hear they are being appreciated.

With regard sourdough starter nomenclature, it can be a bit puzzling. You won't go wrong if you use active (aka ripe, mature, peaked, just peaked) starter in the quantity/volume required in the recipe.

If you don't have the quantity/volume required, then you need to make some. 

Mother starter usually refers to what is perpetuated, seed/seed starter is taken from this to prepare a levain/preferment. 

Depending on the type of loaf being made the proportion of flour which is prefermented, or the hydration level for the preferment can be varied. By and large bakers who calculate such things work in weights not volumes.

Don't be anxious if the recipe calls for a volume of starter, as long as you are happy with the resulting bread. It won't be long til you are wanting to make some of the wonderful breads you see here on TFL,  your best chance of successfully replicating the recipe is to choose one which is weight based, not volume based. 

 I am unfamilar with rye starter and what hydration most people use for their storage/mother starter. You said that you are feeding 50g old starter:100g water:70g rye, this is a 143% hydration starter, which is very liquid. In using other people's formula it helps to have the hydration level of starter/levain/prefement used in the final mix at the same hydration level, otherwise you need to adjust  the amount of liquid used.  You might find it very helpful to use  Mini Oven , rye as search terms here on TFL, she has taught a lot of newcomers a great deal about working with rye. Also  Varda attended the KAF rye class with Jeffrey Hamelman the other week and has started feeding her starters twice daily, might pay to read through her recent blog posts. In his wonderful book 'Bread' Hamelman teaches the establishment of a 100% hydration rye starter.

 You mention a successful  bread recipe, in feeding your starter  50g old starter:100g water:70g rye have you followed the  recommendation in that recipe? 


adri's picture

As posted on her blog, Varda doesn't rely on her sourdough entirely but also uses industrial yeast. But I think this is just to speed things up. With her feeding scheme it shouldn't be necessary.

Also she uses less than 60% rye in her bread. Would you be allowed to sell it as "rye bread" in the USA? In most European countries you were not declared to call it like this. In Germany our rye breads have at least 90% rye.
We also traditionally have a 100% hydration.

Her breads look very nice and tasty, I will definitely try one.

dabrownman's picture

how you build a levain from a bit of starter, or a lot of starter, depends on where your starter is and what you plan to do with it,.  I keep 80 g of very rye wsour starter at 65% in the fridge all the time and feed it after about 2 weeks once 60-70 g are used up.  If I'm making a 100% rye pumpernickel and want maximum sour, I will take 10 g of it and over (3) separate 4 hour builds and feed it whole rye flour at 100% hydration and after 12 hours it should have doubled from the 8 hour mark and be around 180 g total at 100% hydration or 90 g each of water and flour.  After it had started to cave in, I would then feed it 50 g of rye flour  - no water to get it 65% hydration 90g water and 140 g of rye flour, and let it sit on the counter for an hour.  Then I would  refrigerate it for at least 24 hours and more likely and  probably -36 hours.   Then I would take it out of the fridge and add 50g of warm water to it and let it come to room temperature and in about 2 hours it would be ready to make some sour rye pumpernickel at 100% hydration and  280 g of 140g of flour and 140 g of water.  Since the sour producing Labs reproduce at more than 3 times the rate of yeast at 36 F even at much lower rates than if the temperature was at 88 F- 36 times less for Labs and 24 times less for yeast.  After 36 hours I have way more labs than yeast and any bread i make with it will be as sour as I can make it.

If I was making Tartine bread  that is not at all very sour, uses a many time refreshed and very fresh liquid levain that is high in hydration and all white flour, we would do things totally differently over a 2 day,  8 stage,  4 hour each levain build at room temperature where Labs and yeast reproduce at the same rates - while using the exact same 10 g of starter,  but this time trying to reduce the sour as much as possible .  Each time the levains would be refreshed after it had peaked but not crashed.  Panettone would be similar, not as liquid but still trying to reducce sour.   A WW bread would be different too, somewhere in teh middle using WW flour for feed but use the same 10 g of seed starter.

This way you keep one very small starter in teh fridge  for everything except YW breads and build a small of it into a levain toward what ever bread you will bake next.  Works  for me  every time with no muss, no fuss and no waste if you stay away from Tartine, Forkish and panettone :-)

So it depends way more on the bread to be baked and not the starter.  But others may feel differently  and go to the trouble to fit the levain to the bread to be baked as much as I do  

beakernz's picture

Wow, that made my head spin but I think I understand.  Application may be a different matter until I shed the noobie skin.

beakernz's picture

You guys are so helpful and this gives me much to soak in.  Here is a pic of my first sourdough.  It's the first time I ever baked bread as well.  However I did have an advantage coming from years of perfecting espresso making and a long history in darkroom photography.  My previous crafts somewhat prepared me for following instructions and some precision.  My sourdough loaf 1st ever attempt:


And here are my sourdough biscuits, I left off sugar, baking powder and baking soda as I like my biscuits very dense.  Although these came out dense they were soft too and bursting with sourdough flavour.  My sourdough starter came from a breadmaker in NZ and is native to NZ.



For the liquid in the biscuits I used my own 24hr fermented yogurt (carefully fermented using an excalibur dehydrator).  I'm making another batch of biscuits tonight using buttermilk instead.

I will continue researching starter info.  I know I'm at the beginning of this journey, it's very interesting and will be nice as it becomes more familiar.  So far I'm enjoying it to the extreme!

adri's picture

Looks delicious!

Tommy gram's picture
Tommy gram

Use all of the starter to make the levain. When the levain looks like this

mix your dough. I use 1000 grams of levain to make 2000 grams of dough, and on that that day I cook one or two loafs, fridge the rest until we need more bread. When I'm looking at the last of the stored dough, I pinch 20 or so grams of it and start the cycle again using 250 grams of flour and the same of water.